Asterios watched how Tina fumbled with the buttons of her blazer, clearly struggling with them. After a moment, she finally managed to get it off and moved to deal with her shirt in the same fashion.
Seeing that it took even more effort for Tina to work on her shirt, he placed a hand on her fingers.
She stopped and glanced at Asterios with flushed cheeks.
“I’ll go first. Relax. I’m not going to eat you.”
He patted her head with a smile and stepped back, starting to get rid of his clothes. Asterios had no problems while doing so and quickly appeared in front of Tina without his top. Picking up a small jar with dark blue substance, he walked back to her and extended his hand with it.
Tina received the small vial while unable to take her gaze off Ast's chest, making him chuckle a little. That brought her out of her stupor and she hastily pressed on his shoulder with her free hand to make Asterios sit down on the floor. After he complied, she moved to his back and started drawing various lines and sigils over it, using the special paint he had handed to her.
Asterios jerked a little each time Tina’s finger—covered with the cold substance—touched his skin. Seeing him wiggle under her movements caused a faint smile to appear on her lips as Tina relaxed bit by bit during the process.
Finished with his back, she took a deep breath and moved to the front, sitting close to Asterios in a similar position. She took a glance at his face and blushed slightly when their eyes met. Much more in control of her thoughts now, she began scribbling over his chest with her index finger.
To make it easier for her, Asterios closed his eyes. Without him watching her movements, she skilfully dealt with the markings on his front, properly connecting the lines with those on his back, and retracted her hand.
Making use of his still closed eyes, Tina quickly got rid of her clothes too, feeling thankful for Ast’s understanding. She hesitated for a moment during the process, but steeled her mind and pushed through.
“You can open them now. I’m ready.”
Asterios lifted his eyelids and was met with the sight of a blushing, blue-haired girl. Her petite breasts were covered by just her arm while she used the other hand to brush a lock of her hair behind her ear, giving him a shy side glance.
“You didn’t have to take your bra off,” Asterios commented, giving her slim figure a single look before moving his eyes up to Tina’s face to not embarrass her even more.
“It would get in the way… of you drawing…”
He shook his head with a warm smile. “As long as you are comfortable.”
Tina watched intensely as Ast’s finger closed onto her skin, trying her best to prepare for the contact so that she didn’t react in a weird way. But, her efforts were completely ruined by a quiet squeal that escaped her mouth the moment it happened.
Her face flushed even redder. She hadn't thought it would be this cold, even after applying the mix onto Asterios a bit earlier. It had been cute to observe how he flinched under her finger from time to time, but she was literally quivering the whole time he traced over her skin, applying the almost freezing substance.
“Colder than you thought, right?”
“Y-Yes… But, I’m fine. I can’t stop myself from trembling though… Sorry…”
He chuckled. “That’s normal. You don’t need to act like it doesn’t bother you.”
She nodded and continued watching him draw complex lines over her skin. It was easy to notice that the ones he was making were much smoother and softer when compared to the arrays she had created.
Tina cursed her nervousness. She should have done a much better job. Especially for something so important.
As if sensing her worries, Asterios placed his free hand on her head and brushed through her hair. Then, he moved to her back.
All the lines on the front had been completed. Tina glanced at them and realized that he had modified the circuit so that it ran around her breasts while she was covering them.
“Ummm… I could have lifted my arm if you said so…”
Another squeal escaped her lips when Asterios pressed his cold finger over her back, chuckling softly again.
“I didn’t want to make you even more embarrassed. It should be fine with the paths I had arranged around your chest.”
Asterios returned to work in silence, slowly finishing the whole structure. Just a few more connections here and there were left to be drawn. Before he was fully done, Tina spoke up again, with a quiet voice.
“Does this mean that we are… a couple now?”
He stopped his movements to make it easier for Tina to talk and sighed. So far, both of them had been just dancing around the topic for some time, so if Tina had managed to gather enough resolve to ask about it directly, it was best for them to discuss it openly now.
Leaving the rest of the markings for later, Asterios stood up and moved to sit in front of her again. She watched him curiously, certainly not without any worry.
“What do you think about my current situation?”
Tina pondered for a moment while glancing at the floor between them before moving her eyes up again.
“I thought about it a lot after talking with Miria. And… while I had doubts at first… they would all just disappear each time we met… In the end, I don’t think that I mind… I felt like I wanted to be around you for quite some time already and it didn’t grow weaker even after I learned that you… that you might end up with many girls… so… I think it won’t change if it hasn’t already…”
“And, I also spoke with my parents recently. They don’t mind either. They were a bit surprised when I said that the man I like already has someone, but when I mentioned you, Mom just smiled and told me to follow my heart, as long as I’m not trying to get between the two of you. Dad would like to have a talk with you, though…”
“Understandable.” Asterios smiled. “I guess you would like to know what I think, right?”
Tina hesitantly swallowed her saliva.
“You see, I have to admit that I didn’t really pay attention to you before that fateful day, and I’m sure you were aware. I’m sorry if I made myself hard to approach. I know well that I didn’t really make it easy for people to get closer to me.”
“You didn’t do anything wrong,” Tina interrupted him. “It wasn’t surprising that you decided to not interact with people after they mostly made fun of you or tried to use you… If I had more courage back then… I wouldn’t have just kept watching from afar…”
“You didn’t do anything wrong either. Anyway, thanks to Miria, I realized that you might actually like me. Coincidentally, at the same time, the two of us grew closer and I ended up accepting her feelings after sorting out my own thoughts. Then, while I was wondering how to let you know about that without hurting you, Miria announced that she didn't mind not being the only one. It partially came from her culture, I think.”
Tina’s expression turned a bit tense when Asterios mentioned informing her about getting a girlfriend without hurting her feelings, but she released a sigh of relief around the latter part. She already knew that Miria was okay with this, but it didn’t change how stressful this current situation was.
“Therefore, I decided that I’d confront you about it after graduation. If I wasn’t that far off, I think I knew what you would be asking me for your win of our bet.”
Tina giggled quietly, sure that he had figured her out.
“But then, Miria went and spoke with you first. After that, I decided to act less withdrawn while still giving you time to think about it. And I guess this brings us here. We haven’t spent that much time together, but from everything that I’ve experienced, you seem like a very nice girl, and certainly a pretty one, so let me just tell you that I don’t really offer contracts like the one earlier to random women. And Professor Grea’s case is quite special since we were just testing things.”
Tina blushed as a smile started growing on her lips. She felt her face getting hotter from the compliment.
“So… Is that a yes…?” she asked, hoping for a clear confirmation; her heart threatening to jump out of her chest.
Asterios smiled and picked up her free hand, the one not currently busy hiding Tina’s fair bust.
“While I’m unsure if I can say ‘I love you’ right now, I definitely like you, Tina. If you are really okay with this, then I don’t see anything against it either. Miria and Selene had pretty much accepted you already.”
She took a deep breath and exhaled very slowly with her whole body almost shaking during the motion. A wide smile adorned her face as Tina stared at Asterios.
“Thank you…” she whispered, with a single tear traveling down her cheek.
Seeing how her eyes repeatedly moved to his lips, he slowly leaned forward to place a soft kiss on Tina's supple lips and they started exchanging tame pecks. She didn’t even notice when both of her arms wrapped themselves around his neck and pulled herself closer until she felt something warm touch her exposed chest.
She broke the kiss, keeping their foreheads linked, and giggled shyly after noticing their bodies leaning against each other. Fortunately, the paint had already dried off and it didn’t destroy the paths the both of them had created on each other. Asterios kept smiling softly at Tina while grazing her back.
“I’m so relieved… Miria said that you wouldn’t mind, but… I was still so worried…”
“I guess I have to properly introduce myself to your father now.” Asterios chuckled.
Tina giggled in response. “I think we have a summoning to complete first,” she said with a visible blush.
Giving him one more peck, she pulled herself back to sit in front of him again. Her arm moved to cover her chest almost involuntarily, but Tina stopped it and placed it down on her lap, starting to rub her forearm with the other hand while having her petite breasts revealed to the world.
“You can… finish the front now…” She nodded at Asterios with crimson cheeks.
“You are really beautiful, you know?” he commented while reaching for the small jar with magical paint.
In a few moments, Asterios added the paths he had previously omitted, making Tina giggle a few times when he brushed over her supple peaks. Even though still embarrassed, she was slowly growing used to it with time. A wide smile didn't want to leave her lips as she observed him gently trail over her skin.
Then he moved to add the finishing touches on her back and they moved on to the next step. Tina seated herself in front of the circle with Asterios close behind her. He placed his hands on her back and drew on his scorching hot mana.
“Ohhhh… That’s so warm… and pleasant…” she commented after noticing a hot stream of energy spreading over her back.
“Try not to get distracted by it too much. You still have to take control of most of the next steps.”
“I know. I will do my best. I won’t waste this opportunity. Here we go then. I’m activating the formation on my skin.”
Shortly after she spoke, the dark lines over Tina’s body started glowing in blue. Asterios followed after her and also activated his own pathways. With that part completed, they could feel a connection between their spiritual cores; something akin to a temporary bridge.
Asterios began gradually filling Tina’s internal circuits with his hot energy and she focused her mind on spreading it evenly to accumulate as much of it as possible. After she felt like she had reached her limit, Tina dove into her spiritual consciousness.
Appearing in the dark space similar to the night sky as her spiritual avatar, she noticed Asterios by her side and smiled. They floated around each other for a moment. Her body was of a light blue color while he was crimson red.
~Ready?~ Ast’s voice boomed in the unending space.
~Yes. Do you have any tips?~
~Don’t think about it too much. Let’s try to reach as far as we can today. Leave luring the potential candidates to our mixed energies. Come on. You can do it.~
She nodded and flew closer to him, turning around. Asterios hugged Tina’s avatar from behind and they both began calming their minds. After reaching a good level of tranquility, their energies synchronized together, forming one, steady stream.
A moment later, the circle they had drawn together appeared under them. Tina checked it once more and started feeding it their mana. Powerful waves of blue and red began heading outwards at regular intervals, shaking their spiritual avatars a little bit each time they passed through them.
As Asterios had suggested, Tina focused fully on sending those waves to as many realms as she could, reaching as far as her abilities allowed her. With Asterios supporting her, she felt like her Echoes of Consciousness traveled almost ten times further than when she had attempted summoning alone. Joint Summoning was really amazing. And she could feel him by her side all the time.
Seconds passed one by one. The concept of time was slightly different in this internal space. What to them felt like long minutes, was just a blink in the real world.
Tina did notice a few entities looking back at her messages, but Asterios held her back from trying to reach out, explaining to her that it was better to wait longer until one of them made a move instead. In the worst-case scenario, they would only lose the materials and time, but in the best one, she could have a chance of contracting a familiar with high compatibility.
She obviously knew about that, but it was hard to hold back. Previously, she had stopped at the very first signs of something showing interest in her, and that was how she summoned Ori and Firo. Tina couldn’t help but worry that she would end up with nothing if she didn’t take the first chance as she didn’t really receive them that often.
With Ast’s help though, the number of responses they were getting was already unbelievable to her. They had already ignored eleven hits. Whenever she was starting to grow anxious, Ast’s warm energy inside her circuits increased in density, simulating his pleasant touch, so much soothing.
Finally, after what felt like a full hour inside this spiritual space, a stronger response took place. Tina’s attention was instantly drawn to it and she caught glimpses of a different realm. There was a lot of blue stone and water around. She felt something when an image of a serene underground pond appeared in her mind.
~This seems adequate.~ Ast’s voice resounded in the emptiness again. ~The decision is yours.~
Tina agreed with his evaluation and focused on erecting a spatial tunnel between them and the realm of the entity that had responded to her call. She wasn’t sure what it was from these images she had seen, but she hoped that the wait was worth it.
Instantly after setting everything up, she felt the individual jump into the blue gate and travel to them. She waited until it arrived, properly upholding the connection. Then, sensing the entity in front of them, she opened her eyes.
In the middle of the summoning circle, a blue, semi-transparent whirlpool the size of a person spun like a water tornado. After a short moment, Tina and Asterios began to notice it forming a slightly humanoid-looking shape. The swirling water pillar now had a torso, arms, and something similar to a head with a thick neck, all moving with a quiet hum.
“A Water Elemental? That’s quite good in my opinion.” Asterios was the first one to speak.
Meanwhile, Tina kept eye contact with the weird entity, locking her gaze with two glowing spots that supposedly were its eyes.
“No… It says that it’s a Primeval Spirit of Water…” Tina corrected him.
“Oh damn. That’s a bit better than just quite good. Is it speaking to you telepathically?”
“I wouldn’t call that speaking. I just… somehow can understand what it wants to convey. I’ve never experienced something like this…” she said in awe.
“You must have a really high affinity with the water element. I’ll let you take care of the rest now. Good luck.”
Asterios patted her head and stood up, taking a few steps back. Tina also raised herself and glanced at him over her shoulder. He gave her a reassuring smile and nodded towards the entity.
Then, he observed how Tina stepped closer to the spirit and the formation under them glowed slightly more, announcing the start of the first stage of contracting. It seemed that they quickly found common ground and the being was willing to form a bond with her without too much talking.
Everything went smoothly until the bargaining stage. Tina turned her head to look at Asterios again.
“Something wrong?” he asked.
“It asks if you are still going to be around after the summoning ritual is completed.”
Asterios chuckled. “We might need to separate again until graduation, but after that, it all depends on you.”
She nodded with a faint smile and turned back to the spirit. Asterios could have expected the summon to be interested in him as well since his energy had quite the impact on Tina’s summoning. He was sure that she was going to ask him to let her join his party after she was done with the academy anyway so he didn’t mind this requirement for their contract.
And, the entity seemed to be content with whatever they had negotiated as it leaned forward, resting their foreheads on each other while the summoning circle flashed the brightest yet. The contracting part was complete.
After the glow faded, Tina reached her arm into the liquid body of the spirit and it started changing shape. Within a few seconds, a huge scythe made of chaotically swirling water appeared in her hand. The blade was even bigger than her own body.
Tina spun the weapon around, trying to feel it out. The scythe was very light and comfortable to hold onto. She tightened her grip on the handle and made a heavy, diagonal swing upwards.
To her surprise, three sharp blades of water shot out of the tip as it cleaved through the air and sped towards the wall on the opposite side at an enormous speed, passing around Asterios before he could even react.
She flinched and froze with wide eyes while Asterios chuckled nervously. They both stared at the shallow cuts the projectiles had left on the floor and the wall behind him. These were strengthened with the enchantments they had activated earlier. They both realized he would have been split in half with no resistance if one of them had hit him.
“Maybe don’t swing it my way in the future…” Asterios showed a wry smile to which Tina giggled nervously. “These water blades looked very sharp, but I can’t really say that about the scythe itself. Is it more like a magical staff or—”
He stopped when the water surrounding the head of the big scythe suddenly retracted and formed incredibly sharp-looking edges. Paired with the translucent nature of water, which was now swirling only around and inside the long pole, it looked very dangerous.
Also noticing the change, Tina made a few more practice swings, this time making sure that she was positioned away from Asterios. No more blades of water shot out of it without her clear intention. After finishing the last set of movements, she spun the scythe around one more time, stopping it behind her back with a long sigh.
Asterios walked closer to her while applauding. “That was quite badass. Did you or the spirit choose that form?”
Tina smiled at him and blushed slightly. “Might have been even more badass without my chest completely exposed, hahaha.”
“Fair enough.” He chuckled with her.
“Anyway, I always liked scythes. I actually trained with them. Dad was kind enough to hire an instructor, a retired A-rank adventurer. I know it’s weird, but I just can’t help it. I think they are cool.”
“Hey. I’m the one walking around with an assassin’s wristblade in one bracer and a magical armblade in the other. Who is the weird one here?” he asked while bringing Tina her bra from the side.
“Thank you.” She smiled at him with rosy cheeks, quickly putting it on. “I guess we are both weird?”
“Maybe. So, does it have a name? And do you know anything about it?”
The scythe in Tina’s hand started trembling and fused into a smaller, shapeless ball of water. It then flowed through the air towards her right arm and wrapped itself around it like a gauntlet. A single feeler rose from the translucent, blue surface, pointing its tip towards her and Asterios in turns.
“Hydran. At least that’s what it says should be the closest in our language. It can do a lot. Its Water Magic is of a much higher level than Firo’s and it can control its body very well, as you have seen. We’ll have to practice a bunch to figure everything out.”
“I’m glad it worked out for you.”
“I wouldn’t be able to achieve this alone. Thank you, Ast. I really appreciate it. This and… your answer…” Tina’s voice quieted down near the end as she started twirling her hair.
He reached his hand to her and Tina grabbed it, letting herself be pulled into a light hug.
“You better not start slacking off because of it now.”
She giggled while grazing his back. “Don’t worry. I’m still going to win this bet. I even know what to ask for already.”
“Oh? What is it?”
“Y-You will see…”
“Alright.” Asterios chuckled. “Let’s wrap things up here. I still need to meet your father today, before I leave.”
He let her go and they dressed back up. Tina asked Hydran to help them remove the remains of the summoning circle and the spirit easily erased all the leftover traces with its water, which definitely had to be magical.
They, unfortunately, couldn’t do too much about the cuts in the floor and the walls besides mentioning them to the Principal. Tina decided that she would go to her later to explain everything and return the pass to not waste their remaining time together.
Asterios agreed and they moved out of the academy’s grounds. Shortly after they stepped into the town, Miria and Selene jumped out of their respective portals and started congratulating Tina, who immediately began blushing.
Their way to her home was spent in casual chatting between the three girls. It was mostly Miria being totally overenthusiastic about the whole thing, as usual. Selene held back from teasing the blue-haired girl for now and also showed a lot of support to their new friend.
Reaching the mansion, the beastfolk duo returned to their realm and Tina led Asterios inside. Seeing how she was getting tenser and tenser the longer they looked around for her parents, Asterios sneaked his fingers into her hand and gave it a faint squeeze. Tina smiled at him and relaxed a bit.
One of the maids directed them to the lounge that Viscount Thomas was currently taking his break at. Tina quickly guided them there and knocked on the beautiful wooden door.
“Who is it?”
“It’s me, Father. And I’ve brought someone with me.”
“Come in, then.”
They stepped inside the fancy chamber with plenty of bookcases around each of the walls and many sets of sofas, chairs, and coffee tables. Viscount Thomas Nobelle sat with a book in his hand by one of them.
Tina nodded her head respectfully while Asterios made a slight bow. Her father gestured at them to sit down.
“Considering how openly the two of you are holding hands, I assume that this visit is per my previous request,” he spoke, glancing at Tina.
“Then, please, leave us alone for a moment.”
“I want to stay.”
The Viscount raised his eyebrow at her.
“I won’t interrupt you. I promise,” Tina continued.
“Alright.” He sighed, turning to Asterios. “I’ve already seen you act favorably towards my daughter and I admit that I did have a positive impression of you. But, I’ve heard from her later that you already have someone you hold dear.”
“To be completely honest, there are currently two women that I’m in a relationship with.”
“Two?” Thomas didn’t hide his surprise.
“And it’s not impossible that this number will grow in the future. While I’m certainly not looking to build a harem for myself, I would have a hard time rejecting someone who holds feelings for me while I also view them in a positive light. That’s why I wanted to make sure that Tina was okay with such arrangements, giving her time to think about it as much as she needed. As long as my current partners accept another person into the relationship, I will most likely accept them too.”
Tina’s father rubbed his chin and moved his eyes onto her. Anticipating his question, she nodded with a determined expression.
“If you would like to meet them, I can call them here at any moment,” Asterios continued.
“Are they waiting outside?”
Two crimson gates appeared behind Asterios and Tina. Miria and Selene walked out of them and both gave a respectful bow to the Viscount after positioning themselves behind the sofa the duo was sitting on.
Thomas’ eyes widened at the scene. It was obvious that the two girls with animalistic features were Ast’s familiars. Not only had they walked out of a portal but even had collars from the Adventurer’s Guild on their necks. As a Summoner himself, he wasn’t sure what to think of it.
“I understand that this might be confusing, but please, treat them like any other women of humanoid races known to this realm. I can explain the details later. Or Tina can. Nevertheless, I do care for them and they do care for me. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask.”
“Aren’t those two the ones that raided Richtenstein’s mansion? Does that mean that you…”
Asterios smiled wryly. “Yes, I am the young lord mentioned in the public version of the events. I can also explain that later. But, I can promise you that neither Tina nor your family will suffer any repercussions of my actions. Marquess Richtenstein is a quite sensible person, but if they really would dare to raise their hands on any of you, I swear that you will have the full support of the Hestizo Household while I personally deal with them once and for all.”
“Wait. That Hestizo Household? The one whose trade spans over the whole continent? Including the stores in Rosewind?”
“Yes. My mother is the daughter of the family head.”
“Miss Kindra is?!” Tina’s father exclaimed in shock. “I thought she was just a hired manager!”
“That’s just how she is.” Asterios chuckled as a reminiscing smile appeared on his face. ”If she could, she would hide that fact even from the other employees. I don’t think she has ever mentioned her family name to a customer or a friend. And no one would suspect anything with how modestly she lived.”
“Truly, she didn’t hold herself like someone with such wealth and backing behind her… But, I thought they didn’t have a male heir no matter how hard they tried?”
“I’m not her biological son but an orphan picked up from a plundered village.”
“Oh, right. Tina did mention that once or twice. My apologies. I forgot.”
“There’s no need for that. Besides, just recently, I was officially accepted into the family, so you could say that the struggle is no more, even though I’m not really aiming for the position of the head of the family.”
“Good gods… Tina, who the hell did you fall for, girl…”
Seeing her father wipe his face while exhaling heavily, Tina giggled quietly. She had never seen him go through so many phases of shock. To be honest, even she was surprised to learn that Ast’s mom was the daughter of the head of the Hestizo Household.
“Well then…” Viscount Thomas spoke again after recollecting himself. “With all of that on the table, I don’t think I would find anything to nitpick on even if I really wanted to. It would actually be very beneficial for our family to be tied to yours through official marriage, so all my questions about your future goals to raise your status got completely invalidated. If you promise me to always treat Tina well, I’m willing to give you two my blessing.”
“I swear on my name to never let her down.” Asterios bowed his head lightly.
“And we also promise to always be kind and respectful towards her,” Selene joined the conversation, doing the same.
“Don’t worry, sir. Master will surely make Tina very happy. I know it from experience,” Miria also added with a wide smile, following after the other two.
Seeing that Tina was barely holding herself in place, almost trembling from excitement and perhaps partially from embarrassment, Thomas released another heavy sigh and waved his hand at them.
“Alright. Thank you. I’ll leave her in your hands then. Now, if you’d allow me, I need some time alone to rearrange my thoughts…”
Tina was the first one to stand up. She quickly bowed and dragged Asterios away, with the other girls following after them. The moment they left the room, she jumped at Asterios, pulling him into a tight hug. He chuckled and began patting her back.
“I’m so happy I don’t know what to say…” she mumbled into his chest.
“Then don’t say anything. You’ve already said plenty back at the academy. What about your mother though?”
“What about me?”
A different voice brought them out of themselves. They both looked towards the source and found Lady Luna standing not that far from them. Tina instantly turned crimson and jumped off Asterios, escaping with her eyes to the ground. She was so much in the moment that she hadn't noticed her mother standing there from the very beginning.
Lady Luna just smiled at her softly and moved her gaze to Asterios. “I’ve already told Tina that I support whatever decision she would make as long as no one were to be hurt. I abhor those people trying to destroy someone’s relationship for their own sake. But, since you three are fine with it, I also ask all of you to take good care of her. And please, do pay us a visit from time to time. From what I’ve heard, we have plenty to talk about, Asterios Hestizo." She chuckled softly. "Now, if you'd excuse me, I better go and check on my husband.”
He nodded and stepped aside. Lady Luna patted Tina’s head while passing them and disappeared behind the door to the lounge.
“I can’t believe we didn’t notice her…” Tina said, sneaking timid glances at him.
“I did! But I didn’t want to break your little moment, ehehe~” Miria giggled at them.
“Does it matter? It’s not like we were caught in the middle of something serious,” Asterios commented.
“Ummm… Like this?”
Tina stepped closer to him and gently grabbed Ast’s collar. He let her slowly pull him down and join their lips in a soft kiss. This time, he also reciprocated it and gave her a few little pecks.
After breaking off, Tina giggled to herself and they started heading back to the academy, hand in hand. Asterios escorted her to the place of her next class and she thanked him with a quick peck on the cheek, a little too shy to do anything more in public.
They said their goodbyes and Asterios headed with the girls to the town to eat something together and prepare to depart from Rosewind. They should still be able to reach the next village before dusk with Miria’s best speed. They already had pretty much everything ready, including information about their target and their destination.